AQS Freemotion Workshop – Part 3


Last week we gathered our supplies and got to stitching! If you missed Part 2, you can find it here.

This week we will explore ways to overcome the freemotion learning curve and start quilting successfully.

Taking those first stitches seems like half the battle to learning freemotion quilting – the other half could easily be the next million stitches! Much like underwater hockey and street luging, this sport takes practice. Don’t worry, we are here to encourage you along the way and share ideas to help keep the learning fun.

Below you will find two practice sessions. We invite you to give them a try. Modify them so they best suit your needs. Please share any additional ideas you have in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

Break it Down:

Start with a stack of pieced table runners, placemats, rugs, pillow shams, wall hangings, crib quilts, little quilts, anything that’s not a king size quilt (preferably less than 40″ square). Layer the top with batting and backing then pin baste or use large stitches to secure the layers.

Get in the ditch – When seam allowances are pressed to one side or the other a ditch is created. The ditch is accessed from the top side of the quilt top along the seam. It is specifically the side of the seam without the seam allowances. The needle rides long in the valley where the two fabrics meet.

Jumping ditches – When the seam allowances switch directions along a seam on the back of the quilt, this causes the quilter to jump the ditch to the other side of the seam. This is the reason you start paying a lot more attention to your ironing once you start quilting your own quilts.

Traveling in the ditch – When a quilter wants to get from point A to point B without anyone seeing, what do they do? Yep, they hop in the nearest ditch and stitch along the ditch until they are ready to hop out and quilt in the wide open spaces. The ditch provides a great place to hide traveling stitches.

Now it’s time to play in the ditch. Before you begin, here is a handy checklist.

Ditching Checklist:

  1. Check that the seam allowances are pressed to one side (usually to the dark side). The seam allowances need to only go one direction per seam, in other words, don’t let the seam allowances flip back and forth from one side to another.
  2. Identify the seams you want to ditch to stabilize the quilt. There is often no need to ditch every seam. Pick ones that you want to use as a foundation for your quilt design, to show on the back of your quilt, and create a large grid work securing the quilt layers.
  3. Identify the seams you want to ditch later to help with traveling from one quilting area to another. Some seams are great to save later so you can stitch from one location to another without having to cut your thread.

Now you are ready to stitch those ditches! Give it a try.

Once you divide the project into sections with the ditching, you are ready to play.

Take each section and play with a new design. Remember the drawings you did in the first workshop? Try stitching them. You can quilt each area with a different motif or pattern. You can plan out each like-section with specific designs. Try several different things. The more you play, the more you learn.

When you do something you like the look of take a picture and add it to your design library.

If you get stuck, echo quilt your way out of the situation by adding a line of quilting mimicking the main shape 1/8″ to 1/4″ out.

Looking for design inspiration? Try the 365 Doodle challenge. We also have a great selection of design books to inspire you. Here are a few of the favorites:

Quilting Wide Open Spaces by Judi Madsen – A great resource for beginners and those wanting to catch the freemotion fever all over again. While this book is written from a longarm perspective, don’t overlook it. All of the principles are the same. Truly a must have for the serious quilter’s library.

All about the All-Over:

Another great way to practice is to take a simple design, start in the middle of the quilt and repeat the shape randomly going one direction then the another. Continue filling the space with the shape until the entire quilt is complete. Try this process with lots of fun shapes and create your own unique all-over pattern!


No-Mark Quilting Designs by Nan Moore – This book rocks the meandering and all-over design world! It will get you to thinking and creating all-over designs in no time.


Grid it Out:

Love precision? This one is for you. Grab a ruler and mark the top of your entire project with dots indicated the cross section of every 1/2 to 2 inches depending on the scale of the design you want to create. Then practice quilting by filling the grid with a shape (like a clamshell). Repeat this shape for the entire grid creating cool designs and secondary designs. This guided practice gives you boundaries while freeing you up to be creative.

Check out this great tip from Gina Perkes as she demonstrates grid quilting.


Take a look at Gina’s latest book, The Guide to Grids, where she not only offers great resource recommendations for tools and equipment, but shows you how to use grids on any style quilt.

Want even more grid practice, Cindy Seitz-Krug’s latest book, The Grid Design Workbook is just that, a great workbook that teaches you more grid design work. A great follow up to The Guide to Grids, Cindy showcases using grid work for fills.

Play with these three practice ideas. Be sure to set aside practice time a couple days a week. Work up slowly at first, remember quilting wrestling is a physical endurance sport! Include the basics in practice like ditch work, fills, motifs, all-over designs, and grid work. Add in new techniques and ideas too keep things fun. Most importantly, acknowledge your successes and keep encouraging yourself to always learn more. In no time you will be quilting that king size quilt like a pro!
Ready for Part 4 of the AQS Freemotion Quilting Workshop? Give it a try!

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